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Banning trans fats, banning smoking, mandatory calorie listings on restaurant menu's..

Are we inviting nanny state control over the civil liberty of free choice?

I keep hearing the argument against the so-called "nanny state" accompanied by the sarcastic drone of how dumb we must be that we need the government to make decisions for us. The tongue-in-cheek innuendo that we are indeed "smart" enough to make our own choices, but the government treats us like idiots by banning unhealthy things that "everyone knows" is bad for them. - It's a common response to news stories about government bans and regulations that intend to affect our health.

OK, I get the civil libertarian thing. I understand that my grandfather took bullets at Normandy in WW II and witnessed his fellow solders die to defend our right to live in a democracy that grants us our personal freedom. Yes, that is personally true and I really do get that. Enter background dramatic music building to a crescendo where a boisterous voice-over advocates that free speech and freedom to make our personal choices is the very rock that our democracy is anchored to. Yawn..

Advocating or indeed legislating for healthy living is about preserving health. I'm not towing the line for government, We all know that overspending and under performing seems to be the very nature of an administration top heavy government initiative.

The arguments for and against personal freedom to choose and government nanny state debacles do become entangled in the process and more often than not divert the focus from the real concern: Is there or is there not real harm caused by whatever it is that is being banned / controlled.

We end up arguing about the underlying philosophies of what encompasses the ideal balance of governing a democracy. "Hello? ugh, yeah, I came here to talk about removing or not removing synthetic transfats from our food supply, but maybe I have the wrong room.. you all seem to be talking about passed wars, proliferation of the nanny state, and freedom to choose, but not a word about trans fats." The room responds, "Get out! Only those who understand the real issues are invited."..

It's laissez-faire versus nanny state.

Usually I simply walk away. It's like watching two people argue where both believe the best way to get their argument across is to yell louder and talk faster.

Last time I checked about 60% of the population was overweight, and this number grows annually. Type II diabetes is on the rise, childhood hypertension is on the rise. The rise in these numbers does not illustrate that people are exercising their intelligence in a way that benefits their health.

Here's the real issue the way I see it. I get this prospective from talking to people one on one for over 20 years about why they make healthy and unhealthy choices, from reading research on the subject, and on a personal level thinking about what has motivated me to make healthy and unhealthy choices.

Many buy into the completely false notion that what tastes bad is healthy, and what tastes good is unhealthy. Tied to this ideology is that to choose to eat healthy equates to eating drab cardboard and living the boring life of a half-witted hippie throwback who lives on the proceeds of busking and spends their weekends protesting on the government front lawn.

For many the idea of making a healthy choice means making a personal sacrifice that will depress the fun factor and increase the chore factor in their lives.

Socially we have naturalized the idea that to be healthy is to be boring, restricted, and monotonous. In stark contrast to that we naturalized the idea that overeating is a reward, and that non exercise recreation is a reward. No, I'm not against personal R and R, I'm all for it. The distinction I am making is that exercise is not perceived as something you do with your time off; if you do exercise it's a chore you squeeze into your tight schedule here and there.

That, or thoughts and feelings that are along the same lines, is the perspective of the majority of the population. The majority of the population is overweight and out of shape. Go figure.

When I tell people I can't wait to eat salad with nuts and berries in the same way many will salivate over steak and lobster, most will cut me some slack because as a trainer and fitness enthusiast, these "corny" traits are expected. But really what most think, and I know this because I've asked, is that I limit my personal enjoyment by making these choices. That I am woefully lost in my anal control of eating and exercising consuming my life. And that this is the myopic plight of all who make healthy choices. Just a bunch of spandex wearing tree huggers who mechanically dose out enjoyment with strict limitations. Sigh.. Oh, pardon me for a moment, it's noon and I have 10 minutes of enjoyment scheduled. I have to go enjoy myself, I'll be right back.

I haven't hugged a tree lately, but I did wear my spandex yesterday. It's a little on the snug side.

You know, something funny happens to those who harbor these beliefs when they eat healthy and exercise right. They lose weight, have more energy, and feel like they are being relieved of the burden of being unhealthy. They can walk up stairs without getting out of breath, their blood test results come back with lower cholesterol making their doctors happy, which makes them happy. They like the feeling of not feeling guilty after eating too much and instead felt good about eating right. Wait a minute.. what's going on there. Did a person get a sense of reward and relief by lowering their cholesterol? And they didn't have to hug a tree or wear spandex? Their happiness came from something other than overeating? No kidding. Maybe there is something to all this "healthy stuff", and maybe, just maybe, living healthy, despite it's unpopular public review, is actually better than what the reviews say.

It's kind of like a movie getting total crap reviews in the press, but ends up being the best, most moving, award winning flick of the year. Who would have thunk it.

So here's our challenge. As a society we have not yet naturalized our internal motivation to be aimed at making healthy choices where eating and exercise are concerned, but we are capable of making such fundamental changes. Smoking used to be the thing to do if you were cool, or simply just part of the majority. It was something we did, it was something I did.

Over the years the truth that smoking is deadly for us and is a very, very dumb personal decision, has become more widely accepted. Through yes, government initiatives, smoking is slowing dying out, just like many who smoked have already died from the habit.

Do you really believe that without regulations and public awareness campaigns through government and NGO's that smoking would have reduced as much as it has over the past 20 years?

The strategy has paid off. Hopefully the reasoning behind smoking bans - smoking kills - will reach the inner workings of our minds and we simply will have no incentive to smoke, and smoking will be eradicated because it is simply recognized as purely stupid to cause harm to ones self in this way. Smoking bans are not in place because government do-gooders needed to fulfill the requirements of a money trough make work project with no meaning, smoking does kill. That is the incontrovertible truth. I have no doubt that at some point money spent on anti smoking should have and could have been spent more wisely, but that fact does not invalidate the fact that smoking is harmful.

It's like what happened to Galileo when he presented evidence that the earth is not the centre of the universe. A lot of people were married to the idea that the earth was the centre, and so Galileo was branded a heretic.

Synthetic trans fats are a cheap way to add flavor and extend the shelf life off foods. Trouble is we've discovered this frankenfat we concocted in our labs does not benefit us in any way, and in fact is very, very unhealthy even in small doses.

We serve, in many of our most popular restaurants, fat laden, sugar laden calorie bombs with over 1500 calories per serving, with the extremes rising to over 2500 calories- in one sitting. We know for a fact that eating such meals causes endothelial dysfunction - not 10 years later - but at the time you eat that one huge meal. We also know eating like this causes insulin resistance, and yep- fat gain. We also know that eating like this causes an adaptation of our hormonal system resulting in requiring more food to feel satisfied, and to feel hungry more often. Is that good?

We've got the proof. We know this stuff is hurting us, and killing us. It's costing health care billions and causing individual pain and suffering, even amongst those who oppose regulations to try and curb these growing social trends.

Let's get off the pedantic philosophical arguments and get to the point. We screwed up. We invented synthetic trans fats to save money and increase food quality - nothing wrong with that, but this one didn't work. Didn't know it at the time, but we know it now. So let's get rid of it.

Clearly too many people continue to overeat and become overweight as a result. Clearly 1500 to 2500+ Calories is well above and beyond what is scientifically understood to be of any benefit, and even though we can experience immediate gratification because the food tastes good, we know that eating this much at one time harms our health. It's great that restuaranteurs want to add value with voluminous servings, and yes it's true that many customers want to pay for the perceived reward of eating this much food. But hey, we screwed up.

We got caught up in overeating and now overeating has surpassed being an every now and then habit to being part of daily life and social expectation and we are unwittingly killing ourselves. So let's fix that. Let's not hide behind the skirt of "it's my right to overeat" denial based knee jerk defiance. Let's make moves to list the total calories on plates served in restaurants and yes, dare I say it, make it very clearly known that any restaurant that knowingly serves you a 1500 Calorie plate obviously does not give a rats rear end about your health and ought to be called on it. Just like each of us ought to make an effort to realize that wanting such a meal is deleterious to our health.

Don't give me that one sided illogical "personal responsibility" argument that is aimed squarely at the consumer, but not at the vendor. The vendor is excused from the personal responsibility of serving food that doesn't cause your arteries to stiffen up? Everyone has responsibility for these issues. Corporate, consumer, government, NGO. In fact aren't we really fooling ourselves by making that separation? Does anyone really believe that when we say, "corporate" that doesn't include the very same people who are also consumers? Restaurant owners don't go out for dinner? We're all consumers at some point. Is that not a human being in the kitchen making my meal? Is that an emotionless, friendless, automaton business robot back there? Nope. That's a person with their own passions and everything else that makes one human, and that human is not excused from exercising personal responsibility.

Get off the divisive diversions. Health regulations, when evidence based, are good. Do we need checks and balances to ensure superfluous regulations are not passed and that reasonable regulations are not eventually perverted? You bet.

Take away stop signs, red lights, and what the heck, take away police and firefighters. You really think all us smart, personally responsible people are going to get along just fine? We're not there yet people, and who knows if we ever will be. Until there is evidence that the majority of the population actually does make the right choice in critical situations, and of their own volition, we have a responsibility to ourselves to govern ourselves where needed.

That's why we have laws. Where do you think the safety of our food supply would be if we didn't have food safety laws and regulations? Do you think that we would all just get along and wash our hands and go through the expense of storing foods at the right temperature etc. etc.? Not a chance, and you know it.

Get rid of trans fats, the more smoking bans the better (for the most part), and the more we can influence people not to eat to extremes, the better off we will all be. Call to burn me at the steak if you like, but there is solid proof to back the reasons for these currently controversial regulations. I don't like mindless government spending and I am not a socialist. I am though, very concerned about the health of our population.

2009 Cris LaBossiere Rhino Fitness

Copyright 2009 Cris LaBossiere Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca